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COLLECTION Identifier: MS Am 3277

Galway Kinnell recordings


Approximately 365 audio and visual recordings created and/or collected by the poet Galway Kinnell.


  • 1960-2015 and undated


Language of Materials

English unless otherwise indicated; other languages include Persian and Spanish.

Conditions Governing Access

Restricted: fragile; use surrogate. Access to the original formats and containers requires the permission of the curator.
Restricted: limited access; consult curatorial staff (personal and family recordings series).
Restricted: closed for digitization until Spring 2020.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright restrictions may apply.


19 linear feet (365 items in 19 boxes)
Composed of approximately 365 audio tape reels, Super 8 film reels, cassettes, compact discs, VHS and DVD recordings, the Galway Kinnell recording collection constitutes the single largest aggregate of Kinnell recordings in the world.

The collection includes a range of authorial recordings (including live readings, studio recordings, interviews, lectures, and workshops), interpretive readings (by Galway Kinnell of the works of such poets as Walt Whitman and Pablo Neruda), family recordings, performances of musical settings of Kinnell’s poems by such composers/musicians as Andrew Bird and William Mayer, and association copies of readings/performances by friends and fellow authors—among them, John Ashbery, Robert Bly, Allen Ginsberg, Donald Hall, Etheridge Knight, Sharon Olds, Grace Paley, Adrienne Rich, and James Wright.

The collection also reflects Kinnell’s early travels in Iran (with recordings by such poets as Forough Farrokhzad and Nader Naderpour), the peripatetic academic positions he held at the outset of his career (with recordings made at Reed College/Oregon and University of Colorado/Fort Collins), his involvement with the nascent Squaw Valley Writers’ Conference, as well as his ongoing relationships with New York University and the Vermont poetry community.

His committed role as an activist can also be traced throughout the collection: from a recording made during his CORE work in Louisiana to peace marches with his daughter to anti-war readings after 9/11. The recordings he chose to collect provide additional insights into international authors whose works stimulated and engaged him—including recordings that feature Yves Bonnefoy, Federico Garcia Lorca, Pablo Neruda, and W. B. Yeats.

Additional recordings in the collection include original (and dubbed) recordings produced by commercial publishers and non-profit organizations: among them, the Academy of American Poets (where he served as a Chancellor), Poets House (where he contributed to the annual Walk Across the Brooklyn Bridge by reciting Walt Whitman), Watershed Foundation, the Lannan Foundation, and Caedmon.

In addition to its intellectual content, the Kinnell recording collection is of interest for how it reflects a mid-20th century poet’s integration of a range of audio-visual technologies in conjunction with his both his domestic and artistic life: such as Dictaphone recordings, answering machine messages, mixtapes, nocturnal tape-recordings of his dreams, and the use of Super-8 films to document his friends and family.

The collection as a whole allows scholars to encounter Kinnell’s anatomical and literary voice as it evolved over the course of his long career, and the voices to which he listened and received sustenance and inspiration throughout his lifetime.

Biographical / Historical

The following biographical note cites core passages from Barbara K. Bristol’s substantive afterward to the Collected Poems (Houghton Mifflin, 2017). We are grateful for her generous permission to integrate her text into this finding aid.
Galway Kinnell (1927-2014) was an award-winning poet, translator, civil rights activist, and orator.
Kinnell was born in Providence, Rhode Island, on 1 February 1927, and raised in Pawtucket, the fourth child of Elizabeth Mills and James Scott Kinnell, immigrants from Londonderry, Ireland, and Edinburgh, Scotland, respectively.
He was admitted to Princeton on scholarship in 1944, and shortly after enlisted in the Navy. After basic training, he returned to Princeton to complete his studies and officer training. There he met W. S. Merwin, a fellow scholarship student and aspiring poet who arrived late one night, book in hand, and introduced him to the works of W. B. Yeats by reading aloud until dawn. Merwin was perfecting his craft with the critic R. P. Blackmur and the poet John Berryman. Kinnell studied instead with the humanist scholar Charles G. Bell, who became a lifelong mentor and close friend (some of whose recordings appear in this collection).
In pursuit of his M.A. at the University of Rochester, Kinnell wrote a thesis on Hart Crane’s The Bridge. After receiving his degree, he took on a series of teaching positions: at Alfred University and the University of Chicago. On receiving a Fulbright, Kinnell spent the next several years in Paris and later teaching at the universities of Grenoble and Nice.

While in Grenoble, he encountered and taught the work of Walt Whitman for the first time. It was a conversion experience: “Soon I understood that poetry could be transcendent, hymn-like, a cosmic song, and yet remain idolatrously attached to the creatures and things of our world. Under Whitman’s spell, I stopped writing in rhyme and meter . . . and turned to long-lined, loosely cadenced verse and at once I felt immensely liberated.” Discussions of his transition to free verse (as well as numerous interpretative performances of Whitman’s work) can be found in this collection.

Back in the United States in 1957, after his older brother Derry was killed in an automobile accident—a loss revisited several times in poems—Kinnell lived for two years on New York’s Lower East Side.

A second Fulbright took him throughout Asia and eventually to Iran, where he taught at the University of Tehran and worked as a journalist and photographer for an English-language newspaper. He was enthralled by the presence of ancient Persian culture in the midst of a modernizing country, and Iran was to become the setting of his only novella, The Bridge (1966).

During his time in Tehran (1959-60), he made the acquaintance of Iranian poet Forough Farrokhzad and participated in the creation of recordings of her work, overseen by his friend Sean Sweeney. Several of Sweeney’s inimitable recordings are represented in this collection.

Kinnell’s first book of poems, What a Kingdom It Was (Houghton Mifflin), was published in 1960.

That same year, he bought an abandoned farmhouse outside of Sheffield in Vermont as a place to store his books while he traveled the world. Kinnell was an able carpenter (a skill he had learned from his father) and he rebuilt much of the farmhouse, from floors and windows to a brick fireplace and furniture. The place became his second home for the rest of his life. Several of the recordings in this collection include accounts of his dexterous carpentry and detailed instructions for those assisting him with certain construction projects. Throughout the collection, the recordings capture a life in which manual labor and conceptual work lived side by side.

In the early 1960s Kinnell traveled to Louisiana with the Congress of Racial Equality and the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee to work on black voter registration, at one point landing in jail for five days. The recording that Kinnell made at the St. James AME Church in Hammond was likely created during one of his numerous trips to Louisiana.

Kinnell’s second collection, Flower Herding on Mount Monadnock, was published in 1964. Soon after came his translation, The Poems of François Villon (a poet whose work he had discovered during a summer studying with his former Princeton professor Charles Bell at Black Mountain College), followed by other translations of Yves Bonnefoy and Yvan Goll.

The mid-to-late 1960s also saw his marriage to the Spanish-born editor, Inés Delgado de Torres, in 1965, and the birth of their two children: Maud Natasha (1966) and Finn Fergus (1968). The Kinnells’ passion for documenting their life together is evident in the vast array of Super Eight films and family-focused sound recordings in this collection.

In March 1965, he and a group of student civil-rights protesters from Juniata College were charged by mounted police in Montgomery, Alabama. Charles Moore’s photograph of Kinnell’s bloodied face was one of many graphic images in Life that helped to stir the public outrage, leading to passage of the Voting Rights Act later that year. Kinnell’s collection, Body Rags (1968), has been cited as an exception to many of his white contemporary poets’ “silence around race” at time. Several recordings in this archive, including the 1963 reel made at the St. James AME Church in Hammond, Louisiana, are connected with Kinnell’s social justice advocacy and his CORE work.

In 1968, Kinnell signed the "Writers and Editors War Tax Protest" pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the Vietnam War. Kinnell draws upon both his involvement with the civil rights movement and his experiences protesting against the Vietnam War in The Book of Nightmares (1971). The Kinnell recording collection includes numerous recordings from that book—among them, a pre-publication reading at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference in 1970.

Thanks to the enthusiastic reception of The Book of Nightmares, he became a frequent presence on the poetry-reading circuit, taking short-term teaching positions in the U.S. (notably at Reed College, UC Irvine, Sarah Lawrence, and Columbia).

In 1983, Kinnell’s Selected Poems won both a Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. After two years spent teaching at the University of Hawaii, he finally found a permanent academic home at New York University, where he co-founded the creative writing program and taught with his close friend Sharon Olds. Eventually appointed the Erich Maria Remarque Professor of Creative Writing, he would remain at NYU for the rest of his teaching life.

In the 1980’s and 1990’s, he had two residencies at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center and a regular summer stint at the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, where he served as the director of the poetry program for 17 years. (Numerous recordings from his Squaw Valley days can be found in this archive.)

Kinnell’s interest in social activism and the larger world never waned. In 1982, he organized “Poets Against the End of the World,” a historic reading at Town Hall in New York City to protest the nuclear arms race, a recording of which appears in this collection.

Feeling that building a global community of poets would benefit all, and in particular those who were unable to publish freely, he traveled to other countries, including to Japan for the Asian Writers Congress in 1983, to China to read at the Beijing Foreign Studies University in 1984, and to Czechoslovakia in the late 1980’s.

The 1980s also saw the end of his marriage to Inés and publication of The Past (1985), dedicated to her. In 1989 he was appointed State Poet of Vermont, the first to hold that title since the death of Robert Frost. (Several recordings in this collection feature recitations of Frost’s work, as well as discussions of Frost).

A MacArthur Fellowship in 1984 eased Kinnell’s financial situation significantly, though he continued to give readings around the country and abroad for the next twenty-five years, splitting his time between Sheffield and New York. His two edited volumes—The Essential Whitman (1987) and The Essential Rilke (2000)—paid homage to poets who had been his lodestars throughout much of his life.

Kinnell was generous toward other poets, and over the years he helped to organize (and participate in) readings honoring Stanley Kunitz, Hayden Carruth, Etheridge Knight, and others of his living contemporaries and some important forebears, such as Blake, Dickinson, and Whitman. His memorable gathering of poets (including Philip Levine, Allen Ginsberg, Gerald Stern, and Muriel Rukeyser) to celebrate Christopher Smart’s Jubilate Agno in 1978 was recalled in his own poem about the event 35 years later and is featured in this collection.

In 1988, he met Barbara (Bobbie) K. Bristol, his editor for When One Has Lived a Long Time Alone (1990). They married in 1997.

Recognition of Galway Kinnell’s lifetime achievement came in 2002 in the form of the Frost Medal from the Poetry Society of America and, in 2010, his “outstanding and proven mastery in the art of poetry” was celebrated in the bestowal of the Wallace Stevens Award by the Academy of American Poets. His last collection, Strong Is Your Hold, was published in 2006.

Retiring from NYU that year, Kinnell and Bristol made Sheffield his permanent home. In increasingly ill health in the last years of his life, he continued to work every day on his poems. He died at home in Sheffield on October 28, 2014.

Recordings of his last few public appearances, as well as a memorial event held at Cooper Union, are featured in this collection.


Collection is arranged in two series:
  1. Galway Kinnell recordings
  2. Recordings of other writers and artists

Physical Location


Immediate Source of Acquisition

2019M-70. The collection was created by Galway Kinnell and housed at his home in Sheffield, Vermont, during his lifetime. The recordings were donated to the Woodberry Poetry Room by his family in 2018.

Processing Information

Processing Information Processed by Christina Davis, 2019.

The physical arrangement scheme for this collection was imposed during processing to address conservation needs. At the time of inventory, the recordings were found to be in no discernible order. All handwritten annotations found on the original containers have been transcribed into this finding aid.

Titles were created by the archivist to respect the range of titling conventions found on the original media: including untitled recordings, informally titled recordings, ambiguously identified mixtape recordings, and dubs of commercial titles.

The basic elements of devised titles include the primary speaker (or author), a given or created title of the event, and a location or sponsor. Italics are used only in the cases when a specific title (or series) was advertised for the event. Otherwise, the generic title “Poetry Reading” was used.

For multi-author readings that exceed three readers, the list of participants has been placed in the Scope notes.

Examples of devised titles for unproduced/non-commercial recordings include:

Kinnell, Galway. Poetry Reading, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah Kinnell, Galway, Writers in Performance, Manhattan Theatre Club, New York, New York

When the contents of the original media were not readily apparent, the cataloguer transcribed all available information. As an example:

Kinnell, Galway. Sound recording labeled "A Workshop for Poets" Kinnell, Galway. Sound recording of unidentified Chinese translator

Transcriptions were conducted using a vertical bar "|" to indicate line-breaks or spaces.

Due to the fragility of the formats and the technological challenges presented by legacy audio, the contents of these recordings could not be verified through playback at the time of cataloging.

Dates are taken directly from the item itself. In some cases, the date on a given item may refer to a publication or broadcast date (not the date of the original recording).
Link to catalog
Galway Kinnell recordings, 1960-2015 and undated (MS Am 3277): Guide
Houghton Library, Harvard University
2019 March 8
Description rules
Language of description
Finding aid written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the Houghton Library Repository

Houghton Library is Harvard College's principal repository for rare books and manuscripts, literary and performing arts archives, and more. The library's holdings of primary source material are managed by an expert staff and shared with scholars, students and the public in the reading room.

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